Eight women gather around a table, sipping wine and seltzer water, chatting about their latest food adventures, while nibbling on top-quality Parmegiano-Reggiano cheese and Kalamata olives. Is it the prelude to a long-standing suburban book club’s monthly meeting? No, it’s the ﬁnal judging of the Whole Grains Council’s Make the Switch recipe contest.
Throughout September, to celebrate Whole Grains Month, we invited people across the country to visit the WGC website and view a group of sixteen whole grain recipes created by leading bloggers and dietitians. The dishes, which ranged from soups and salads to casseroles and comfort food, had been specially crafted to inspire everyone, everywhere, to make the switch to whole grains.
For thirty days, people tried out the recipes (or simply drooled over them!) and voted for their favorites, elevating ﬁve of the recipes to the status of ﬁnalists in our contest. The ﬁve ﬁnalists were: Spiced Ginger Citrus Millet, Apple Pie Smoothie, Wild Rice and Fall Fruit Salad, Ratatouille Quinoa, and Corn Chowder with Wild Rice. Now it was time to cook these ﬁve recipes, and pick the ultimate winners.
The cook-oﬀ was masterminded by Janice Newell Bissex, of the Meal-Makeover Moms. Janice was the logical choice to head up this part of the contest not only because she’s a registered dietitian and seasoned recipe developer, but also because she has an amazing professional-grade kitchen where she regularly shoots videos for her business. (Not to mention she is the ultimate hostess!)
Even the pros are challenged with ﬁve recipes to prepare in a single afternoon, however, so Kelly Toups (left above) and Mallory Cushman (right above), WGC Program Managers, stepped up as sous-chefs, chopping and sautéing under Janice’s oversight. By the time Oldways Communication Manager Rachel Greenstein (center, above) and our other judges arrived, delicious smells met us at the door of Janice’s house.
Let the judging begin! Our panel of ﬁve judges included me, Janice, Kyle Potvin of Splash Communications (media consultants to Oldways) and two additional celebrity judges: Mary Ann Esposito, beloved host of PBS’s longest-running food show, Ciao Italia, and Maria Speck, culinary expert and author of the award-winning book Ancient Grains for Modern Meals.
Judges, L to R: Maria Speck, Kyle Potvin, Mary Ann Esposito, Janice Bissex, Cynthia Harriman
We tasted our way through all ﬁve recipes, and rated them on three qualities (creative use of whole grains, ease of preparation, and taste, as per the contest rules) with input from our cooking team on any unclear or diﬃcult cooking instructions. The decisions were diﬃcult, and our judges took their roles seriously, carefully considering each dish in turn. “Love the crunch of the hazelnuts…” “The texture isn’t quite what I expected…” “Nice balance of ﬂavors between the grains and vegetables…” “Lots of ﬂavor, without being heavy…” Mary Ann and Maria were especially generous in sharing their experience with foods and ﬂavors in other cultures.
Such decisions are never easy, but in the end we are delighted to announce our three prize winners:
- 3rd place (winner of $1000) Wild Rice and Fall Fruit Salad, a savory mix of apples, pears, nuts and wild rice by Amy of Tiny Farmhouse.
- 2nd place (winner of $2000) Corn Chowder with Wild Rice, a zippy soup with two kinds of peppers, fresh corn and wild rice by Jennifer of Peanut Butter and Peppers.
- 1st place (winner of $3000) Grilled Ratatouille Quinoa, a simple but delectable combination of grilled vegetables, quinoa and a light dressing by Bobbi of Bobbi’s Kozy Kitchen.
These three weren’t the only winners. We also picked one of our voters at random, to win $500 and a Virtual Gift Basket of whole grain foods. Congratulations to Danielle Liszka of Oxford, OH – a nutrition student at Miami University.
At the end of the day, everyone who switches to whole grain is a winner, because of the proven health beneﬁts of whole grains. We hope everyone enjoyed our Whole Grains Month contest and we thank our three sponsors – Bob’s Red Mill, Arnold / Brownberry / Oroweat bread, and Gen-Ji-Mai rice – for helping to make this contest possible.